I remember the old days of PR.
When I wanted to reach out to the press to share an announcement, I'd run and grab the official company letterhead, print a well-written document explaining the news, and fax it over the newspaper to consider for their next edition. Then I'd wait for the paper to arrive and read it cover to cover to see if it was picked up or not.
We're clearly in a very different world today, and the ease of putting out press stories means the news is now inundated with press releases that didn't need to go through painstaking hours of work to release. There are literally thousands of news stories placed daily onto the newswires, which are emailed to news stations, newspapers, and directly to reporters. Further, the abundance of ways to get direct journalist email addresses means many people skip the wires and simply email them directly with news any time of day.
So what does this mean for press releases?
This means the likelihood of your release being read depends on catching the right person at the right moment with the right story.
More than likely, no one will ever read your press release.
So what's the point anymore?
Press releases are still relevant for large public companies that are required to send out financial information or disclose major business decisions; they are also relevant for major brands that people are waiting to hear from such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Tesla and Facebook.
For small to mid-sized companies things work a bit differently.
Smaller companies can use press releases for a few main reasons.
If you want to try to reach the news, what should you do?
The best way to reach the news for potential features is to send a quick pitch and link them to your press release for more info. Here's an example.
Subject: 60+ grandpa bikes 20 miles a day with toddler
Why does this pitch work?
The goal is to find the right person at the news station to send your pitch to, or you can make it general and talk to the admin who filters stories and distributes them to producers by sending it through the website contact form.
So, the idea is to send quick, snippy paragraphs that sell stories to the news that are digestible and catch their attention.
What other factors should you consider?
A recent example:
I recently provided a press release distribution to a cyber-security company. They had been covered in news previously and were announcing an acquisition in the midst of a pandemic where meeting in person had been difficult due to local health rules. The acquisition was done 100% remotely and created one of the largest MSP providers in the state they operate in. That's big news, and super-timely.
Rather than submit the release publicly on a wire, we sent it directly to the local business news publications during a series of days in the order of importance to the local market.
News, at its most basic level, is simply a way for people to find out what's going on. With that being our agreed definition, approaching news pitching at its core is simply telling the news what's going on, so they can decide what happenings are most worth telling their audience about.
The difficulty is that in larger markets, or national news covering the entire US and world, there's a lot of stories to tell and just a few people who are responsible for deciding which stories are most relevant. Your job as the storyteller is to explain in one quick glance why your story deserves to supercede the others in the lineup for space in their media network.
The first story I ever pitched was the announcement of a local contest being hosted by a nonprofit organization. That organization bought a home, renovated it, and donated the home to a local hero. The program garnered over $20,000 in cash sponsorship, numerous donated construction team hours, and cost about $45,000 to buy the house and bring it to code.
My job was to pitch that idea to a radio station host that our company CEO listened to, so that he would be interested in being part of the selection process and to talk about the contest the entire way through, announcing the winner on air and on television as he was also a TV reporter.
What made it newsworthy:
Because of these elements, the radio host accepted the offer and was part of the program from beginning to end.
Once the initial program was over, the next part of the project was to promote the awarding ceremony. The company hosts an annual Christmas Party with top business leaders and dignitaries on the invite list. This year, we also invited the winning family and celebrated the contractors who donated their hours to complete the home renovations.
What made it newsworthy:
These pitch elements drove interest from the local TV news and two cameramen arrived prior to the ceremony to film it and record an interview with the city leaders present.
The key to getting press for an event is in finding all of the most relevant elements surrounding the programming. What makes it locally relevant? What makes people care about this more than other things happening at the same time? What part of the daily news lineup does it fit into? Which producer or writer will care most and why? Knowing the answers to these questions will make the difference between being ignored and getting featured.
When possible, inviting and confirming local leaders that are pressworthy on their own is a great way to solidify newsworthiness and get journalists to show up.
Lastly, it's all about timing. There are things you cannot control and much of PR is about being in the right place, with the right story, at the right time. Don't take rejection personal and always be prepared to keep trying with other news opportunities along the way.